In six starts this spring, Fernando Valenzuela’s earned-run average is 5.76. Wednesday against the Montreal Expos, he gave up eight runs in four innings, including a grand slam by Tim Wallach, and left the game trailing, 8-1. The regular-season opener is four days away.
So, why was Valenzuela smiling as he packed up his belongings before departing on the Dodgers’ chartered plane to Los Angeles, where they will open the Freeway Series with the Angels tonight at Dodger Stadium?
“Today, they scored a lot of runs off me,” Valenzuela said after the Dodgers’ 13-11 loss to the Expos, “but it doesn’t matter to me.
“I felt pretty good. I was a little wild, but I pay attention to how I’m feeling, and every game I’m making progress.”
Besides, as windy as Holman Stadium was Wednesday, Valenzuela said he might as well have been pitching in Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
“Most of the time I tried to throw the first pitch for a strike,” Valenzuela said. “Two or three of their hits were on the first pitch, including Wallach’s grand slam. I’m happy, because I was throwing the ball in the spot I wanted.”
If the glasses Valenzuela is wearing this spring appear rose-tinted, then so is the mask worn by catcher Mike Scioscia, at least while they’re on the subject of the left-handed pitcher the Dodgers need desperately to recover from the shoulder problems that limited him to a 5-8 record in 1988.
“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Scioscia said. “His velocity was a little better, his pitches were sharp, he had great breaking stuff.
“I was encouraged. I don’t care what kind of numbers he’s got, Fernando’s never been one to have a good spring. . . . Fernando accomplished what he had to do this spring.”
Scioscia again asked for patience from those who expect Valenzuela to be his old dominant self overnight.
“I don’t think you can put too much pressure on one outing, make it a do-or-die situation, and if he doesn’t do it, say, ‘What’s wrong with Fernando?’ ”
The year he came off shoulder surgery, 1984, Scioscia said it was nearly July before he felt 100%.
“You have to teach yourself how to throw again after having a problem like that,” Scioscia said.
“If Fernando does well at the beginning of the season, it will be icing on the cake, because by June, July, August, Fernando will really come into form.”
Valenzuela still isn’t breaking 80 m.p.h. with his fastball, but he insists he’s feeling stronger. “I’m ready,” he said.
The Dodgers can only hope he is.
Kirk Gibson tested his sore right shoulder in Wednesday’s game, only the third exhibition he’s appeared in this spring. Gibson had one hit in three at-bats and the Dodgers are waiting to see how the shoulder responds tonight. . . . Willie Randolph, whose wife Gretchen underwent an emergency appendectomy Tuesday, will remain in Florida. He will rejoin the team in Cincinnati on Sunday, the day before the Dodgers open the regular season against the Reds. . . . Chris Gwynn was the unanimous choice for the Jim and Dearie Mulvey Award given to the player chosen top rookie in spring training. Gwynn hit .468 this spring. None of the last five Mulvey Award winners are with the Dodgers now: Craig Shipley, Mike Ramsey, Reggie Williams, Sid Bream and German Rivera.